The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

Bridge at War: Chapter 35

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The three companions left the Warden's office with Arden speaking quietly but urgently into the telephone behind them. They set off in haste along the corridor, their boots and Bram's staff squeaking in unison on the polished floorboards.

Cliviger Grange As they turned the corner which led to the stairs to the ground floor, they suddenly encountered Brasham, the surprisingly quietly-spoken Sergeant that had previously guided Tom and Alistair on their first trip to the Lyndesfarne School for Guardians, when they were still trainees.

The Sergeant seemed intent on his own business, his mind somewhere far away, but he stepped automatically to one side to let the other men through. They walked quickly past, but just then Brasham's attention snapped back to the here-and-now.

"You there!" he called out, "What are you up to?"

The three companions stopped immediately and turned around as one. Brasham evidently recognised both Tom and Alistair immediately, having been in charge of them both on more than one occasion. His eyes widened as his glance took in Bram, rapidly identifying the cloak and staff as that of a Messenger.

"I know you, don't I?" He said, after a closer look at Bram's face, "And I know your father, too."

Bram looked startled for a moment, then looked again, studying the other man through narrowed eyes.

"It's Brasham," he said finally, holding up a hand in greeting.

It seemed to Tom that Bram had just used a subtly different pronunciation of the other man's name.

"So what are you doing, wandering the halls of Cliviger Grange?"

Bram flourished that wry grin of his.

"My father's asked us" - he indicated Tom and Alistair with a sweep of his hand - "to track down Warden Markham, and to ask him a few questions."

Brasham raised an eyebrow.

"Do you, now?" he said laconically, "He's not in his office, then?"

Bram shook his head.

"As it happens," the Sergeant continued, "I've been keeping an eye on the Major myself, just recently."

The Sergeant's face twisted into a sardonic smile that Tom had never seen before. He was beginning to wonder if Brasham could give Bram a run for his money in the ironic expressions department.

"And what is it that you want to ask him about?" Sergeant Brasham asked quietly.

"Well, it seems that my friends here have come by some information," Bram replied, also lowering his voice, "It concerns the recent disappearance of my Uncle Hamet."

"Go on."

Bram and Brasham had moved closer together, so that they were now face to face, with only a few inches between them. It seemed to Tom that there was some kind of hidden communication going on, something he could not interpret from where he stood.

"For example, we know that Markham had a meeting with Hamet, here in the Grange - well, in the grounds, to be precise."

"Hmmm. And how exactly do you know this?"

Bram pointed a finger to one side. As one, the two men swivelled to face Tom.

This seemed to be his cue to speak about the time he had skived off from his chores, and wandered along the quiet pathways through the grounds to the walled garden and old tennis court tucked away at the rear of the house. He explained how he had seen Hamet and Markham in conversation, but had not been able to overhear what they had been saying.

"Aha! So it was you," Brasham exclaimed, "I had wondered who the hidden bystander was. You must have heard me step on a twig - quite deliberately, I have to add. I wanted to flush you out, but you managed to move so quickly through the undergrowth that I lost you almost immediately."

"Sorry about that," Tom said apologetically, "But I wasn't supposed to be in that part of the grounds at all."

"I understand that," the Sergeant replied gently, "Mind you, you certainly have a way of moving quickly and quietly, young man. Really rather impressive."

He looked askance at Bram.

"Perhaps we can find some better use for his talents in the future?"

Bram nodded slowly, not taking his eyes off Tom for a long moment. Then he turned back to Brasham.

"I can see we've got your attention," he said, "And there's more."

Bram briefly retold the story where Tarm and the mufti-clad Markham had met in the Pub. He reminded the Sergeant about Tarm's position in the Board of Control - although Tom suspected that he did not, strictly speaking, need to - as well as the fact that the Board Member had also recently disappeared mysteriously. He did not mention Alistair's role in this at all, although Brasham did look quizzically in his direction a couple of times. Tom imagined that Bram was not keen to have Alistair's breach of the Guides' rules too widely known.

After Bram had finished, Brasham stood silently for a few moments.

"Well, well, well," he breathed eventually.

He put his head on one side.

"I've had my suspicions about Markham for some time, but I've not been able to find anything untoward. But there are a few questions about his military service record - there appear to be some gaps and inconsistencies, as if some attempt has been made to cover something up."

"What do you mean?" Bram asked, suddenly sounding more urgent.

"The official records say that the Major was in France and Germany for the entire War. But there are irregularities - some documents we've managed to unearth suggest that he was briefly seconded elsewhere."

"Where?"

"Back to Blighty," the Sergeant said, "And only for a few weeks, mind you. We believe he was attached to the military training camp at Long Benton."

The unexpected use of the place name made Tom jump.

"What? Near Newcastle?" He interjected.

"That's right," Brasham agreed, "Do you know it?"

"I used to live near there," Tom replied, "And I did my basic training in that camp."

"But why would anyone want to hide the fact that they attended a recruitment centre?" Bram asked.

"I don't know," Brasham responded, "But Major Markham's record of conspicuous gallantry only really starts after he returned - we think - from this side trip."

"Perhaps it wasn't the place per se," Tom interrupted, speaking slowly, "Perhaps it was just a convenient location close to where we are now."

Bram and Brasham looked at each other, the realisation forming that Markham had visited a place very close to Lyndesfarne, and then tried to cover up the fact.

"You'll still be looking for the Major, won't you?" The Sergeant asked, beginning to look a little anxious.

"We certainly will," Bram replied, "I dare say you'll be wanting to talk to him, too."

Brasham nodded, then turned and hurried off, calling out that he needed "to make a report to my superiors."

"You seem to be well-known around here," Tom noted, wondering who Brasham's superiors actually were. Was the softly-spoken Sergeant actually an agent of the Watchers, he thought?

He was not allowed the time to think this thought through, as Bram cried out, "Come on, lads!" and set off at a brisk march, hurrying back towards the front entrance where they had dumped the car.

"Are we going back to the crossing?" Alistair asked.

"I can't think of anywhere else to go," Bram confirmed angrily, "Arden reported that Markham was headed that way, but we can't be sure he was telling the truth."

Bram, Tom thought, was obviously feeling extremely frustrated.

"This would be so much easier at home," Bram blurted finally, clearly irritated at their lack of progress in locating the errant Major.

"Why's that?" Tom asked, more from a sense of continuing a conversation rather than an expectation of anything useful.

"Oh, I'd use a Locator, of course," Bram replied flippantly.

"And what's that?" Tom enquired, now confused.

Lyndesfarne pendant "They're also called Finders," Bram replied, "It's a magical way of determining the location of the object or person you are looking for. A powerful magic, most often embedded in a ring, brooch or necklace."

Alistair piped up.

"That pendant I dug up last year," he said to Tom, "When we were digging ditches. Do you still have it?"

"Yes, of course. It's in my locker. Why do you ask?

"Because," he said slowly, "I think it might be a Finder, or at least used to be one. And it might just still work."

Bram stopped dead, the other two nearly running into him. He turned to Alistair.

"What makes you think something like that would work in this world?" he demanded.

"Oh, Bram," Tom interjected, "Let's not pretend that it's impossible for magic to work here - whatever the official line is. I've seen the back cover of your notebook, glowing in the dark, sending reports on the War back to your father."

Bram had the good grace to look rather sheepish at this point, but he remained resolutely silent, neither confirming nor denying Tom's suspicions. Tom imagined that the concerted campaign of misinformation and propaganda on this topic over many years would not so easily be reversed.

Alistair, on the other hand, looked irrepressibly smug, as if a fair number of things which he had known about for ages were finally becoming understood by Tom.

"Tom's right," Alistair said to Bram, "And I'll bet that you were using some kind of invisibility magic, a Concealer, when we first chanced upon you out on that moonlit field in Normandy - although why it suddenly stopped working I have no idea."

Staff car at Cliviger Grange "Let's not go into that right now," Bram said, still not quite meeting Alistair's eyes, "So, do you think you have got a working Locator, then?"

"I do," the other man responded, still grinning broadly.

"I'll go and get it," Tom volunteered.

"OK," Bram said, "Meet us by the car. As quick as you can."

"Right."

Tom reversed direction and set off at a run, making his way down the back stairs of the Grange and along the paths to the barracks block. As he ran, he wondered just what magic would work in this world, and how it was decided what was to be permitted. He thought again about the story by the Gunner in the pub - clearly, blatently adding magical sprites to artillery shells must have received some kind of official blessing.


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